Fairfax Co. first responders vote to unionize for the first time in 40 years

Firefighters and paramedics in Fairfax County, Virginia, became the first group in 40 years to unionize Friday, after members totaled more than 3,300 24-hour days of mandatory overtime in just one calendar year.

The vote was announced by the union in a press release, stating that the roughly 1,500 emergency personnel would be the first public sector employees in over four decades to enter a collective bargaining agreement.

Until 2021, employees in the public sector couldn’t legally unionize. That changed in Fairfax County in early 2022, when the jurisdiction passed an ordinance that allowed state employees to collectively bargain.

“Just as importantly, this win puts us in a position to ensure we are providing the best services to the members of our community,” International Association of Firefighters 2068 president Robert Young said.

Young said that “excessive” mandatory overtime — totaling 80,000 hours or 9 years of mandatory overtime in the past calendar year — were among the concerns of voting members who sought to lessen “potential hazards” that stem from long and intense working hours amid a staffing shortage.

“This upcoming budget cycle presents an opportunity for some of these issues to be addressed prior to negotiations,” Young said. “Outside of ensuring our members receive their standard merit increases and [cost of living adjustments], we will be working with the board of supervisors to ensure funding for automated ambulance/medic loaders will be in this year’s budget.”

About 95% of union members, a little more than half of the 1,500 members that were eligible to  vote, cast ballots in favor of representation from the IAFF.

Negotiations are expected to start early next year. The agreement’s approval still requires Fairfax County Management’s approval, with negotiations stretching into November of 2023.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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